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The Oldsmobile Silhouette is a luxurious minivan loaded with features. It comes standard with a powerful V6 engine. The Silhouette is so refined and handles so well that it is actually fun to hustle down a challenging road. Yet with its long wheelbase, it seats seven comfortably and comes with thoughtful and entertaining interior features that make trips with kids go easier.
Safety has been improved with new dual-stage air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger designed to detect the acceleration and severity of a crash and inflate the air bag appropriately to minimize risk of injure to those of smaller stature. Front side-impact air bags are standard.
All-wheel drive is available this year for the Silhouette, improving vehicle stability and driver control on slippery surfaces. The optional Versatrak all-wheel-drive system is packaged with four-wheel disc brakes and an independent rear suspension, all of which adds increases stability in all driving situations and weather conditions.
Also new for 2002 is a third-generation entertainment system, which features a DVD player with wireless remote. And more seating options this year let buyers choose the interior layout that best suits their needs.
GM's V6 engine is a powerful workhorse with satisfying throttle response and good efficiency. It produces strong low-rpm torque for quick acceleration, even when loaded down. You can feel the engine growl slightly through the steering wheel.
Traction control is standard on GLS and Premiere, and a $195 option on GL, and we recommend it for easier control in winter driving. Without traction control engaged, you can spin one front wheel during a spirited take-off. With a powerful V6 and front-wheel drive, torque steer is sometimes noticeable: a slight tug on the steering wheel under hard acceleration. Still, the output of GM's V6 is less than that available in Ford, Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota minivans. The four-speed automatic is programmed to shift up as soon as possible, which improves fuel economy at the expense of driving fun.
This year, for the first time, the Silhouette is available with GM's Versatrak all-wheel-drive system. Versatrak directs the power to the wheels with the best traction whenever traction is lost and wheel spin is about to occur. So, if you accelerate on a slippery road, the system transfers power to one or both of the rear wheels before the front wheels can start spinning. The system comes with four-wheel disc brakes (in place of the standard rear drum brakes), and an independent rear suspension. Impressively, the rear cargo floor is flat even on models equipped with the Versatrak all-wheel-drive system.
Oldsmobile's Silhouette does a better job of filtering road vibration than Pontiac's Montana or Chevy's Venture. Perhaps the touring tires of the Premiere we drove are tuned for less harshness. These same tires likely contribute to the Premiere feeling a little less grippy in corners. Body lean is also more noticeable in the Silhouette than in the Montana.
The brake pedal of the Silhouette doesn't feel as firm as we'd like, especially when you compare it to Oldsmobile's more modern sedans, such as the Alero, Intrigue, and Aurora. The anti-lock brake system, however, works well, with steady and unobtrusive feedback when it's engaged on slick surfaces. (We have not tested the available four-wheel disc brakes that come on the all-wheel-drive models.)
The Oldsmobile Silhouette makes all occupants feel they have control over their personal space, with places for drinks and trinkets, and individual entertainment options. You could live in one of these if you had to, and it sometimes seems that way when you're stuck on the 405 in Los Angeles, shuttling distractible youths to after-school Tai Chi lessons.
We've driven minivans with aftermarket video and television setups, and none of them match the sound quality, picture quality, and ease of operation found in the Premiere Edition. On the other hand, the GLS model offers most of the same equipment without the video system for considerably less. Viewed that way, the video system is an expensive option. Some users, however, say it's money well spent because it eliminates from their vocabulary the phrase, "Don't make me come back there."
Regardless, the Silhouette is fun to drive. It rides and handles well. Add all-wheel drive and it's a great all-weather vehicle.
If you're shopping for the absolute lowest-priced transport for the soccer team, you should probably look elsewhere. The Silhouette is designed for people who understand that interior space, efficiency, and versatility are desirable traits in a luxury vehicle. These are certainly traits we can understand.